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Voting Problems, Fraud, Scandals Plague Polling Places Across America: Maine
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Voting Problems, Fraud, Scandals Plague Polling Places Across America: Maine

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MAINE – December 7, 2018

About 150 absentee ballots submitted by Colby College students using addresses on Mayflower Hill Drive are being challenged on grounds that the addresses don’t meet voter registration requirements, the Portland Press Herald reported.

A group of registered voters in Waterville has argued that the addresses – which include a four-digit student number but don’t reflect where exactly a student lives – could cause confusion over which wards and districts a student should be voting in.

In the past, a majority of students lived on campus at Mayflower Hill, but the opening of a new dormitory building at 150 Main St. – which is in a different ward and legislative district than the main campus – has complicated the issue, said Waterville City Clerk Patti Dubois.

Andre, a Republican who is running against incumbent Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, said the process for student voting in Waterville has “been flawed for decades” and he brought the issue to Maine’s Secretary of State last month.

State Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, serving as Andre’s attorney, also wrote a letter to Dunlap about the issue, urging him to remind the Waterville city clerk that staff can ask students to state their addresses at the polls.

The 150 Main St. location in downtown Waterville, which houses about 200 upperclassmen, is located in House District 109 and Ward 6, while Colby’s main campus on Mayflower Hill is located in House District 110 and Ward 3.

“It appears likely that many of those who have moved into the ‘new dorm’ will not realize that their House district (as well as their ward within the city of Waterville) has now changed, and the address on the voting list will continue to show them as Mayflower Hill Road – District 110,” Katz wrote in the letter provided by Andre. “The almost inevitable result will be that many of the Colby students who have moved to the ‘new dorm’ will be disenfranchised from voting within their correct house district (and Waterville ward).”

Andre said a difference of 200 Colby votes could have an impact on local races.

“Republicans on the Colby campus have stated they have a policy of not taking an interest in local elections and students should be voting absentee in their home states,” Andre said. “So it’s very one-sided. Republicans are doing it the way the law designed it to be, where the Democratic Party is encouraging students to vote but doesn’t mention that right includes residency.”

Maine clerks face challenge processing a high number of absentee votes. According to the town clerk, of the 8,200 people in Cumberland, 6,800 are registered voters and 48% of them voted absentee, News Center Maine wrote.

“Originally absentee voting was established for people who couldn't get to the polls on Election Day for health reasons,” town clerk Tammy O’Donnell said. “They were going out of town now it's anyone can absentee vote.”

It’s more work for town officials but in Cumberland, absentee voting prevents long lines at the polls during elections.

“We really encourage people to vote absentee because the polling place, it's a very small place,” said Cumberland town manager, Bill Shane.

But counting a large number of absentee votes requires a lot of manpower.

“It seems to be getting more and more challenging each election,” said O’Donnell.

At the town hall in Falmouth, there was a similar story being unfolded with each ballot. Over a dozen people were there, carefully opening envelopes.

“We have to hire a few people so financially it is extra for us,” said Ellen Planer, Falmouth’s town clerk.

Planer said she wished the state of Maine allowed true early voting.

Right now only an absentee in-person early voting system exists where voters go to a polling place and fill out an absentee ballot and submit that to be counted.

Many clerks across Maine in the days leading up to the election noted some voter confusion about distinguishing between the dueling voting methods on this year’s ballots. Only in this election’s congressional races did Mainers have the option to use the new voting method, which gives each voter the option to rank their choice of candidates from most preferred to least preferred, though they can opt out and just select one, Bangor Daily News wrote.

Some voters were tripped up by the two different voting methods printed on either side of the same ballot, deputy warden Cathy Lemin said Tuesday afternoon at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“They get going on one side, and then they flip it over and stay in the same mode. It’s confusing,” she said.

Election clerks in Bangor have been dealing with more mistakes than a typical election brings, Lemin said, pointing to an envelope full of about 100 ballots discarded by voters who made errors because of ranked-choice.

In Blue Hill, Town Clerk Etta Perkins said she was worried that the need for new ballots would blow through her supply before the polls closed, plus her pile of absentee ballots. She said she would have to call state officials for permission to use the absentees.

“We have had so many ballots marked in wrong,” Perkins said. “They’re not paying attention to the instructions, and they’re right there in each of the voting places.”

Robert F. Bukaty

Other clerks across Maine noted long lines and delays at their polling place.

In Bar Harbor, Town Clerk Sharon Linscott said voters were stuck in longer lines waiting to cast their ranked-choice ballots in a separate machine from the rest.

Town Clerk Leanne Dickey confirmed she did receive some complaints alleging a man was confronting University of Maine at Farmington students outside the polls on Tuesday, asking if they were registering to vote and if they were from out of state, Daily Bulldog reported.

Bill Crandall of Farmington said he did stand on the front lawn at the polls in the Farmington Community Center next to a large poster display of information about voter registration procedures taken from the Maine Secretary of State's online page titled Maine Voting Residence Fact Sheet. He said he asked people on the sidewalk passing by if they intended to register to vote and if they had an out-of-state driver's license. He also asked if they would want more information on the state's voter registration law.

Dickey said she received complaints about Crandall as a good turnout of voters filed into the polls on Tuesday. "I did check on him," she said. Dickey and other poll workers along with three voter rights advocates at the polls kept an eye on Crandall through the day. Crandall handed out flyers with information that included eligibility requirements to register and vote in Maine, steps to establish a residence and the possible ramifications of registering to vote in Maine. The fact sheet notes if "you register to vote in Maine, you will be deemed to have declared residency in Maine, which may require compliance with other Maine laws, including the motor vehicle laws and tax laws."

However, according to the Secretary of State's fact sheet to be eligible to register to vote in Maine there are only three requirements: a person needs to be a citizen of the United States; be at least 17 years old to vote in primary elections and 18 by the general election; and have established a residence in the municipality where the person wants to vote.

A section states that the ability of students to "establish a voting residence at your Maine school address if you have a present intention to remain at that address for the time being, whether that residence is a dorm, apartment, house or even a hotel."

Dickey consulted with Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap who confirmed that Crandall was within his First Amendment rights of free speech to talk with voters outside the polls. "He wasn't influencing voters; he was giving information about voter registration," she said.

Crandall said he decided to provide information about voter registration laws at the polls for the midterm election because he felt there wasn't enough information provided by the Secretary of State.

“Politics has made us insane. I saw a candidate at the door going in. We smiled and said hi, but I just like to vote and leave. I don't sign the petitions or, I guess, look around much. I try to be on my best behavior,“ Thomas Knight commented regarding the situation.

Another reader “Arnold” commented: “There are some additional aspects of this event that need discussion. First, the Secretary of State's office made an immediate determination that Bill Crandall did not attempt to deter anyone from voting. They reached this conclusion without a meaningful investigation and without speaking to the UMF students who reported they had been intimidated. A federal offense occurred at our polling place but they brushed it off. Second, Mr. Crandall should be reminded that he is a visible face for a local non-profit that works for the betterment of marginalized populations. He may be a private citizen, but his actions have caused embarrassment for some of those he works with. Lastly, the Town of Farmington allowed this activity to take place on our public property. Despite the complaints of several citizens, the on-site town official chose to let this activity go on for over six hours. Rather than ask Mr Crandall to remove his intimidating sign from the front lawn of our Community Center, they enabled him by allowing this to take place just 20 feet from the front door. Charges should be brought against Mr Crandall, and the Town Selectmen should review their relevant town policies.”

“looks like another Obama election how many people casted votes that don’t have the legal right to vote in our state ???? better check to see how many head stones voted as well !!!!!!” reader “John”added.

“Mr. Crandall is being less than honest and benevolent. I spoke with four different UMF students about this, each of whom said Crandall did not ask if they were from out of state. He asked them if the were "from here" or "a resident here," implying from Farmington. As Maine law clearly state states college students are allowed to register to vote in the town where they attend college, be it Farmington, Orono, Waterville, Bangor, or Portland / Gorham. They are not allowed to vote in two municipalities but may absolutely vote where they go to school. Mr. Crandall's intent was not to helpfully "educate students," as he claimed, but to dissuade UMF students from voting in the town of Farmington -- something they are absolutely allowed to do by law. To conflate the right of a college to vote with registering a vehicle or obtaining a new driver's license is completely dishonest. Shame on you, Bill Crandall,” Stan Jonathan noted.

In Bath, a malfunctioning piece of hardware led to a mostly sleepless night for a select few, with city officials and election volunteers working into the early morning to tabulate absentee ballots, the Times Record reported.

“It was like that nightmare that you always think might happen,” said Bath City Clerk Mary White, who was working until 2:30 a.m. to get Bath’s ballots counted after problems with a memory card.

It’s not clear how the memory card became corrupted, but the unforeseen complication extended vote counting in Bath by several hours and prevent results from getting out until the next morning. Officials don’t know why they ran into problems with the card.

In Maine and other states, official vote tallies from voting machines are stored on special memory cards, which are transferred to the Secretary of State’s office.

In a typical election year, White does everything she can to make election day run smoothly. For instance, the day before the election she tallied all of the approximately 900 absentee ballots that came in prior to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2. That way, when polls closed at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, all that needs to be tabulated are the votes that were made in person on election day and the few absentee ballots that trickle in on Monday and Tuesday.

So when the machine finished tabulating election day ballots a little after 9 p.m. Tuesday night, White and company believed they were near the end. After all, the vast majority of the more than 4,000 ballots cast in Bath had been counted and all that remained were the couple hundred absentee ballots that came in on Monday and Tuesday.

White reached out to the secretary of state’s office, whose staff was unable to troubleshoot the issue over the phone. With only a couple hundred ballots left to count, things ground to a halt in Bath. Finally, at about 11 p.m., a voting machines technician arrived to take a look at the memory stick.

According to White, the technician concluded that the memory stick was corrupted, and White would have to recount all of the absentee ballots and add them to the other memory stick with the Election Day results on it.

Bath isn’t the only community to have experienced problems at the polls.

Kristen Schulze Muszynski, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, said 21 communities in Maine reported issues with tabulating elections.

As WGME wrote, a Portland City Council candidate was calling for a recount, after he said voting tabulation machines malfunctioned at a half-dozen precincts.

"My understanding is that there were a half-dozen machine malfunctions across the city," Brunelle said.

Joey Brunelle says he was leading the at-large city council race when those voting machines malfunctioned.

He says that led to ballots being counted by hand hours after the polls closed.

When it was over, he lost to incumbent Councilor Nick Mavodones, but he's asking for a recount in three polling places where the machines malfunctioned.

"This isn't about the outcome for me,” Brunelle said. “This is about making sure that our voting infrastructure is reliable, and that people can have confidence in the results."

In his letter to the city clerk's office, Brunelle says those precincts took an unusual amount of time to process ballots, with some results not called in until after 4 in the morning, that thousands of ballots were not tabulated in the presence of voters, but instead processed by poll workers after polls closed and that there was an opportunity for human error or some ballots to be discarded.

"We had sent observers to a couple of those precincts around 3:30 A.M.,” Brunelle said. “We weren't able to get into one of them."

Brunelle is also requesting a complete review of Portland’s election infrastructure.

"We want to shine a light on the fact that everything didn't go smoothly on Tuesday,” Brunelle said. "The other thing we've asked the city is to conduct a review of the voting infrastructure in Portland, to make sure we have enough machines, that the machines are reliable."

According to WGME, the Maine Republican Party and Bruce Poliquin's campaign made multiple allegations that multiple ballot boxes had arrived in Augusta without padlocks and were "unsecured" during the ranked-choice voting process.

“There is also a report of a clerk at the Bangor polling station who was tabulating absentee ballots on her own and without any election monitoring, which is illegal,” Brendan Conley, a spokesman for Poliquin said in an email. “These are certainly concerning.”

The Maine GOP sent multiple photos to CBS 13 that it claims shows multiple ballot boxes with missing padlocks.

"We certainly feel that they are serious concerns and provided the evidence to prove that," Executive Director of the Maine GOP Jason Savage said.

However, the Secretary of State's Office said Sunday that those claims are "unfounded".

"I think I'd just like to assure voters that their ballot is secured," Kristen Muszynski with the Secretary of State's Office said. "The clerks take this very seriously, the election's division takes this very seriously. We're a professional staff and the integrity of this election is of the utmost importance."

While the Secretary's office admits some boxes did not have padlocks, they did have serial numbered tags and seals which the Secretary said act as a lock all on its own.

The Maine GOP and Bruce Poliquin's campaign said their concerns should worry all Maine voters.

"If the chain of custody is corrupted people can go in and fill additional circles on these ballots that they can't do with ordinary voting," Savage said. "These ones [ranked-choice] someone could get into them and fill in additional circles."

On November 27th, Bruce Poliquin made a post in his Facebook, saying:

“IN A SHOCKING DEVELOPMENT the Secretary of State claims to have found new Rank Votes on the eve of the recount deadline. These new Rank Votes, counted apparently with no observers using the computerized Rank Vote process, the Democrat Secretary of State said increases my political opponent's Rank Vote total by hundreds of votes. What is still certain however is that I received the most votes under the "one-person, one-vote" standard on Election Day. This is very concerning and casts further doubt and confusion over the entire Rank election process.”

A message posted earlier on Poliquin’s Facebook page said:

“6 days and 15 hours after the polls have closed and because of rank choice voting we still have no final election result. This system only adds additional cost to taxpayers, creates overwhelming confusion for our citizens, and is ripe for mishandling and unlawful electioneering actions, as evidenced already. Mainers deserve better than their money being wasted, their frustrations growing, and their sacred right of voting being manipulated.”

On November 13, Brett Baber, Terry Hamm-Morris, Mary Hartt, and Bruce Poliquin brought a federal complaint in protest of the state’s new system of ranked-choice voting, Court House News reported.

“Ranked choice voting/instant-runoff voting can arbitrarily distort majority will in elections and can cause a voter’s vote for a particular candidate to reduce that candidate’s electoral chance to win,” the complaint states. “This phenomenon, unique to ranked choice voting/instant-runoff voting, constitutes fundamentally unfair treatment of votes.”

“Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit to protect their right to vote – and to vote effectively – in federal elections,” the complaint states. “This right is being undermined by Maine’s ‘Act to Establish Ranked-Choice Voting,’ which has replaced the plurality-based, single-election system used in this state for nearly 140 years with an exotic, ranked choice voting system described as ‘costly,’ ‘confusing,’ and ‘depriv[ing] voters of genuinely informed choice.’”

A federal judge Lance Walker denied Rep. Bruce Poliquin's motion to halt the ranked-choice voting process just hours ahead of an expected winner being announced, News Center Maine wrote on November 15th.

Poliquin's team claimed again that the process was unconstitutional.

Poliquin garnered about 2,000 more first-choice votes on Election Day but was not declared the winner because he did not receive more than 50% of the vote, triggering a second ballot tally under Maine’s ranked-choice voting law that handed Golden the victory.

But not because Golden earned a majority, Poliquin’s attorney Lee Goodman argued in the Dec. 2 brief, WGME reported.

If the more than 8,200 exhausted ballots cast for independent candidates Tiffany Bond or Will Hoar had not been discarded after the first round of counting, shrinking the pool of total applicable votes, Golden would have won with a 49.1% plurality, not a majority, Goodman argues.

A key premise of ranked-choice voting is that it produces a majority winner through one or more “instant runoffs” that retabulate ballots after candidates with the lowest vote totals are eliminated and the second or third choices of people who voted for them are reallocated to remaining candidates. Goodman argues that was not the case in the 2nd District.

“It necessarily follows that Bruce Poliquin, who earned a plurality on the first round, should have been declared the winner of this election,” Goodman wrote, adding that the majority that gave Golden the win was fake.

“I suppose it’s a fake majority, but it’s also all that’s required,” University of Maine law professor Dmitry Bam said, adding that in the final round of tallying in a ranked-choice contest, the winning candidate does not have to receive a majority to win. Ultimately, he said, RCV is “still a plurality system.”

As Sun Journal reported on Nov. 27, when Secretary of State Matt Dunlap certified the results of the race, Democrat Jared Golden’s lead over Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was 600 votes more than the number announced Nov. 15 following the ranked-choice tally. The bump gave the victor a lead of more than 3,500 votes.

That increase caused some head-scratching Tuesday, with state GOP Chairman Jason Savage saying in a prepared statement that the new votes were added “under the cover of darkness with no notification of any of the processes that were taking place and no public observers.”

“Trust in this system is shaken from start to finish,” Savage said.

The votes from six towns, though, were always there, state officials said. They hadn’t been counted properly because of a glitch in the system that elections workers didn’t discover until just before they went home for Thanksgiving vacation, according to Kristen Muszynski, Dunlap’s communications director.

More than 6,100 ExpressVote ballots from the towns Monroe, Blue Hill, Otis, Van Buren, Mars Hill and Brewer had been mistakenly fed into a tabulating machine that couldn’t actually count them, she said. ExpressVote is a tabletop ballot-marking device that allows individuals with disabilities to vote with privacy and independence, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

A vendor “was able to extract those cast vote records” from its equipment Monday “so we could add them to the tabulation for a true and accurate final tabulation,” the Secretary of State’s Office said in a written account Tuesday describing what happened.

It’s the sort of error that sometimes crops up, Muszynski said, as officials compare numbers in every town. Typically, though, nobody knows about the revisions because unofficial results aren’t given out by Dunlap’s office.

Julie Flynn, Dunlap’s elections chief, told reporters during the initial count that there are a number of ways that ballots can be marked that confuse the tabulating machine but that would be clear to people looking at them. For instance, she said, there may be ballots on which someone filled in a circle for one candidate and then crossed it out and filled in a different circle. The machine would only see that they’d voted for two people instead of one, tossing it out as a result.

In a second news release, the GOP’s Savage said it appeared that Golden picked up more votes in the six towns from ranked-choice redistribution than was mathematically possible.

Savage assumed, however, that the extra 600 votes for Golden somehow came from the 562 ballots cast in those six towns for the two independents in the race, when in fact the votes came from the 6,100 ballots missed in the initial count.

Both Poliquin and Golden gained thousands of votes as a result of the error, but Golden gained more, which is why his overall lead increased.

During the initial count, about a dozen state officials handled memory sticks and ballots from sealed boxes on tables set up in front of observers, including those from the campaigns of Poliquin and Golden. It appeared to be a thorough, careful process that raised few questions as it proceeded.

Savage claimed Dunlap’s office simply found more votes “and added them to the totals to expand Jared Golden’s lead” and “didn’t bother telling anyone until this recount deadline was upon us.”

“This is all the more reason for the recount and lawsuit,” Savage said. “Nobody should be able to just add to vote totals under the cover of darkness without proper notification and transparency measures.”

The whole ballot-counting process in Maine caused outrage in comments.

“Folks, all political corruption starts local, the SOS can't steal an election without the help of local election Brendas,” said one of the readers with username “Rev. Bob Celeste”.

Another reader commented: “If there's any real problem at all it has to do with counting the actual ballots. I was quite satisfied with the RCV in the initial determination. It worked the way it was supposed to. Those six thousand miscounted ballots, isn't acceptable.

People should have known this election was going to be of historical measures with the new voting system. To allow such sloppy management of ballots, over six thousand ballots in such a close race, is totally unacceptable.

How are we to believe the outcomes and the overall system of RCV, when glaring mistakes like this happen. What will we find after this next recount?????????”

As Bangor Daily News wrote on Dec. 5, Mainers in the 2nd Congressional District were “voting blind” on Election Day when they cast their ballots using ranked-choice voting, an expert in voting systems testified Wednesday at a hearing on U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s federal lawsuit to have the results from the Nov. 6 election he lost to Democrat Jared Golden set aside.

The expert from the University of Maryland was the only witness called by Poliquin’s legal team during Wednesday’s arguments in federal court before U.S. District Judge Lance Walker, who said he will issue a ruling next week.

Poliquin’s legal team was arguing that ranked-choice voting, which was used in a general election for the first time last month, vexed voters and that the state should hold a runoff election between Poliquin and Golden in the 2nd District.

“The fundamental defect is that voters are forced to make a guess about who will be left after the first round,” University of Maryland Political Science Professor James Gimpel said of the voting method, in which voters rank their choices numerically, setting up a series of instant runoffs if no candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes.

Poliquin had garnered 46.3% of first-choice votes on Election Day to Golden’s 45.6%. But because no candidate received a majority of those first-choice votes, the ranked-choice voting process kicked in and the votes from those who had chosen independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar were reallocated to Golden and Poliquin. Golden claimed more of those reallocated votes, elevating his vote total above Poliquin’s. Golden won the election with 50.53% of the vote to Poliquin’s 49.47% following the ranked-choice tabulation by the Maine secretary of state’s office.

Gimpel prepared a report on which Poliquin’s Washington, D.C., lawyer, Lee Goodman, based his contention that more than 8,200 ballots in which voters only chose independents Bond or Hoar — and no second, third or fourth choices — were discarded. In effect, Goodman argued, the exclusion of those ballots after the first round of counting disenfranchised those voters.

Gimpel said a traditional runoff of the leading candidates allows voters to know exactly who they are voting for. Using the sample 2nd District ballot posted on the secretary of state’s website, Gimpel said he came up with 1,500 possible combinations of rankings.

Apart from Poliquin’s legal challenge, the two-term congressman also requested a hand recount of votes, which Dunlap’s office will start Thursday Dec. 3. That process is expected to take a month.

Author: USA Really